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Interview: 'Runner Runner' star Anthony Mackie

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Justin Timberlake may be on the run trying to save his hide in the new crime drama "Runner Runner," but in reality, Timberlake's fellow star in the film, Anthony Mackie, is the man in motion.

Mackie has been working nonstop since he kicked off his film career in 2002, and things have definitely shifted into overdrive after his starring role opposite Jeremy Renner in the 2008 Best Picture Oscar winner "The Hurt Locker."

The great thing is, Mackie, 34, has been carving out a diverse career with a variety of roles. In his last film, the dark crime comedy "Pain & Gain," the actor played a bodybuilder who helps commit a heinous crime as a shortcut to living the American Dream; and in "Runner Runner," he's the playing completely the opposite.

As the hard-nosed FBI Agent Shavers, Mackie is trying to crack down on dirty online gambling magnate Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) and his smart but naive associate, Richie Furst (Timberlake), who is willing to make money fast instead of earning it the hard way.

The interesting part about Mackie's character, though, is that he's working outside of his jurisdiction in Costa Rica -- where the rogue gambling operation is based -- so it allows Shavers to do a fast-tracking of his own to get the job done. Shavers is getting his hands dirty sifting through the filth, and he knows it.

"I feel there needs to be a little bit of that in the enforcement of the law. If you have to kind of break the law to enforce the law, I'm kind of OK with that," Mackie told me in a recent interview. "I feel that nowadays, bad guys are allowed to be sophisticated, and police work is still stuck in the 19th century, so I feel if you have to push the envelope a little bit, you push it. I read the script and said, 'Yeah, I'll rough some people up a little bit."

"Runner Runner" is unique in that it takes on the complex world of online gambling, which as the film explores, can provide a gaping hole to financial disaster and in Furst's case, something much worse. A former Wall Street up-and-comer who lost all his money in the stock market crash, Furst is trying to put his life back together to get a financial degree at Princeton, but is forced to gamble all he has in online poker in order to pay his tuition.

When all goes south on Furst, though, he flies south to Costa Rica to tell Block that he's found a cheat in his system in an effort to get his money back. But in return, Furst is offered a position with what he believes to be a legitimate multimillion-dollar operation.

Mackie said while he loves gambling and there's nothing that he enjoys more than "spending time at craps tables and the baccarat table," he's definitely steers away from the unknowns that await others who gamble online.

"As a society, we've become so pigeonholed with the online means of communication, that so many people feel comfortable sitting in front of a computer screen instead of going to an actual table or sitting down with a bunch of actual people to play poker," Mackie said. "I'm not a big fan of online gambling. I find it borderline boring. Besides, the house can win in person. I don't need them to have better odds of winning when I can't be in control and see where the cards are coming from."

In other words, Mackie said, if no "hard cards" are involved, somebody else can take the risk.

"I don't understand why people gamble online because the computer is creating the cards as it goes," Mackie observed. "So, if you have the potential of winning a big hand, all the computer has to do is create a different card and you lose."

As an observer of the risks in Hollywood, Mackie said he couldn't be more thrilled over how Timberlake continues to take gambles as singer-turned-actor. And in the case of "Runner Runner," Mackie, who shares most of his scenes with Timberlake, said his co-star walks from the film, like many times before, as a big winner.

"What I admire about Justin is that he doesn't take anything for granted," Mackie said. "If you look into the amount of hard work he puts into a role and the way he works, you want to see him succeed. Not too many people in his position are like that. So many people just show up and they let their morals and their celebrity speak for them, as opposed to doing the work. But Justin is such a f------ hard worker, you want to see him succeed. He's prepared every day."

Of course, much can be said for Mackie's hard work as well. His next film is the the indie drama "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete," which also stars Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright and Jordin Sparks, which opens next week; and he also stars opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in the Julian Assange-themed drama "The Fifth Estate," which opens Oct. 18.

Looking ahead to April 4, Mackie will take flight as Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon, in the Marvel superhero sequel "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" opposite Chris Evans.

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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